Violeta Chamorro

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Violeta Chamorro
Violeta Chamorro 1993.jpg
President of Nicaragua
In office
April 25, 1990 – January 10, 1997
Vice President Virgilio Godoy
Julia Mena
Preceded by Daniel Ortega
Succeeded by Arnoldo Alemán
Personal details
Born (1929-10-18) October 18, 1929 (age 85)
Rivas, Nicaragua
Political party National Opposition Union

Violeta Barrios Torres de Chamorro (born October 18, 1929) is a Nicaraguan political leader, former president and publisher. She became president of Nicaragua on April 25, 1990, when she unseated Daniel Ortega.[1] She was elected as the head of a 14-party anti-Sandinista alliance known as the National Opposition Union (Unión Nacional Opositora, UNO), an alliance that ranged from conservatives and liberals to communists. She left office on January 10, 1997. Chamorro was the first and only woman to hold that position in Nicaragua. Chamorro was the first elected female head of state in the Americas, and the second in the Western Hemisphere after Iceland's Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. She was also the second woman elected in her own right as a head of government in the Western Hemisphere (after Eugenia Charles of Dominica), and the first woman in the world to defeat an incumbent president.[2]

Venezuela's former President, Carlos Andrés Pérez, was put to trial in his country after it was discovered that he had embezzled funds to support the campaign that got Violeta Chamorro to the Presidency.

Personal life[edit]

Violeta Barrios Torres was born on the 18 October 1929 in Rivas, a small city near the Nicaraguan border with Costa Rica to a wealthy, conservative family headed by Carlos José Barrios Sacasa and Amalia Torres Hurtado.[3] While she has often been claimed to be part of the Nicaraguan aristocracy, in truth, her family had large landholdings and cattle and were more akin to cattle barons of the western United States, than the "Nicaraguan Gloria Vanderbilt", as she was sometimes styled in the American press.[4] She attended primary school at the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in Rivas and the Colegio Francés in Granada. Barrios began her secondary education at the Colegio La Inmaculada in Managua[3] and then transferred to an American boarding school, as her parents wanted her to perfect her English.[5] She first attended Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas, and then in 1945 changed to Blackstone College for Girls in Virginia.[3] In June 1947, her father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and though he died before she could make it home, she returned to Nicaragua, without graduating in the United States.[5]

She met Pedro Joaquín Chamorro Cardenal in 1949,[6] they married in December, 1950, and subsequently had five children together. In 1952, Chamorro's husband inherited, upon his father's death, the newspaper La Prensa. He took over publishing and under his direction, the paper became a a voice of opposition to the Somoza regime. Chamorro Cardenal was frequently jailed between 1952 and 1957 for the content of the paper and in 1957 led a revolt against Somoza. His action resulted in the his exile to Costa Rica, where Chamorro joined him after settling their children with his mother. Two years were spent in Costa Rica, writing against the regime and immediately upon their return, Pedro was jailed again. Her life throughout the 1960s and 1970s was a repetitive cycle of reunions with her husband or children, his jailing and exile.[7] Chamorro received earnings from a rental property her mother had given her, which kept the couple with a steady income stream. When her husband was assassinated on 10 January 1978, she took over the newspaper.[8]

Over the years, Chamorro's family has been split into feuding factions based upon political association. Two of her children, Pedro and Cristiana, worked at La Prensa, although Pedro left Nicaragua in 1984 to join the contras. Her other children were active Sandinistas; Claudia was ambassador to Costa Rica and Carlos became the editor of the FSLN daily newspaper Barricada. In spite of the conflicting political views of her children, Chamorro encouraged and hosted family dinners during which she insisted political affiliations were temporarily forgotten in the interest of family harmony.[9]

Rise to power[edit]

Violeta Chamorro's rise to power began when she took over as editor of La Prensa with the assassination of her husband, which sparked the Sandinista Revolution. His image became a symbol of their cause and when Daniel Ortega Saavedra led the Sandinista guerrillas triumphantly into Managua in July 1979, Chamorro was with them.[6] A coalition to replace the Somoza regime was formed. Chamorro, represented the Democratic Union of Liberation (UDEL) in the first Junta of National Reconstruction (JGRN), which also included Ortega, commander of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN); Moisés Hassan Morales, of the pro-Sandinista National Patriotic Front (FPN); Luis Alfonso Robelo Callejas, with the Nicaraguan Democratic Movement (MDN); and Sergio Ramirez Mercado for the Group of Twelve.[10] This five-person directorate, which initially promised an independent judiciary, free elections, free enterprise and free press, was assisted by an 18-member Cabinet and a 33-member Council, whose membership represented a broad spectrum of Nicaraguan society.[11] After years of dictatorship, country was impoverished and it was believed that a Marxist-style government would restore prosperity;[12] however, the Sandinistas began taking over television and radio stations and censoring newspapers[11] and a police-state based on a Cuban model emerged.[12]

In March, 1980, FSLN signed several accords with the Soviet Union causing the US President, Jimmy Carter who had initially authorized aid to the Sandinista government, to approve CIA support to the opposition forces.[13] On 19 April 1980, Chamorro resigned from the junta[10] in opposition to the Sandinista's push for control, fervent implantation of Cuban-style Marxism,[6] and failure to keep the commitments made in Puntarenas, Costa Rica for establishment of a democracy.[10] Her exit prompted other more moderate members of the junta also to resign and join with resistance groups that were beginning to form.[14] She returned as editor of La Prensa, driving it to become both an advocate of free speech and opposition thought.[6] Her support of the the Contras caused divisions in her own family[15] and resulted in La Prensa′s offices being temporarily shut down on several occasions.[10][16] In 1986, President Ortega even threatened her personally with a thirty year prison sentence for treason, but did not act on the threat.[12] That same year, she won the 1986 Louis Lyons Award from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University because she "resisted repression and censorship" and remained dedicated to a free press despite threats and even at times having the paper's pages blanked or shut down entirely.[17]

Beginning in 1987, a conglomerate of 14 political parties began working together in the hopes of defeating the Sandinistas, should an election come about.[3] By 1989, efforts of Costa Rican President Óscar Arias and other Central American leaders had persuaded Ortega to hold elections. He agreed not only to free elections, but to the monitoring of elections [12] and the conglomerate of opposition, now calling itself the National Opposition Union (UNO) agreed upon a formula to select a consensus candidate. After five rounds of voting,[3] Chamorro was appointed the presidential candidate for UNO.[15] Her platform primarily consisted of two key promises: ending the war and ending mandatory military service.[3] It also played heavily on her simplicity, her faith, common sense,[18] and the image of her being the queen-mother and wife of a martyr.[3]

Almost all news outlets, reported that Chamorro could not win.[19] She was rich; she had no real experience;[6] there were rumors that she received millions from the United States Embassy and that she was a US lackey;[20] that she was too religious; and that her coalition was too disorganized, had no money, and was plagued by in-fighting.[19] In reality, her humility and provincial roots worked for her;[4] she had run a family, a business and been part of the original junta;[6][10] the Sandinistas blocked payment of funds to her from the US while simultaneously claiming she received them;[21] she had long been vocal about her displeasure of US involvement in Nicaragua;[22] Nicaragua is one of the most religious countries in Latin America and her faith united those who had felt alienated by the Sandinistas;[23] but mostly regardless of whether she was disorganized or not, she promised peace and people were tired of war.[24][3][25] Orgega spent large sums of money,[19] strutted like a "macho rooster", as if the election were already won,[24] even using a fighting rooster as the symbol of his campaign.[26]

The United States government was convinced she could not win without measures to level the field. The Bush I administration wanted Congress to waive the prohibition of using National Endowment for Democracy funds to support a candidate and approve a $9 million aid plan in addition to granting $3 million outright in assistance to UNO. Congress refused, as direct aid to candidates or parties was prohibited by law. Congress finally agreed to the $9 million package, only as per the legal requirements—meaning funds could only be used for election monitoring and observers and drives to increase voter turnout—and must be fully disclosed. Earmarks for building infrastructure were for vehicles and gasoline, salaries, poll watchers, office equipment, trips abroad[27] to train poll workers and those registering voters,[28] election monitoring teams, and as per the provision of foreign donations, $2 million was paid into the Nicaraguan Supreme Electoral Council run by the government. In addition, the CIA covertly paid close to $0.5 million to nearly 100 Nicaraguans living abroad to return home and vote.[27] But, the aid package ran into difficulties. One month before the elections, only $400,000 of the money had been sent and it was sent according to Nicaraguan law to the government run Central Bank.[29] The vehicles which were provided for in the aid package arrived in Nicaragua, but due to the customs director's vacation, the vehicles were not cleared, nor were tags issued for their use.[30] Three weeks before the election, UNO officials reportedly had received only around a quarter of a million dollars and accused Ortega's administration of delaying tactics and taking their share off the top. The government countered, that the history of the Iran–Contra affair was a basis for caution and that the US itself was creating delays. Since the United States invasion of Panama had frozen Panamanian currency, Ortega's administration stated that they had no access to their funds which were deposited in Panamanian banks.[21]


Presidential styles of
Violeta Chamorro
Coat of arms of Nicaragua.svg
Reference style La Honorable Violeta Chamorro, Presidenta de la República de Nicaragua The Honorable Violeta Chamorro, President of the Republic of Nicaragua
Spoken style Presidenta Chamorro President Chamorro
Alternative style Señora Presidente Madam President

In 1990, after nearly a decade of civil warfare and economic sanctions, Chamorro became the presidential candidate of the National Opposition Union (UNO), a coalition of 14 political parties that ran against the Sandinistas in that year's national elections.[31] Chamorro won the election with a 55% victory over the incumbent, Daniel Ortega.[32] These elections were internationally monitored and provided a relatively smooth transition. The elections were known for being tremendously influenced by the United States: in addition to the White House's insistence that the embargo would continue if Chamorro were not elected, the White House also contributed $9 million to Chamorro's UNO party. Chamorro's presidency is primarily known for the peace her election allowed for war-ravaged Nicaragua, as the US was expected to continue funding the Contras (and maintain the embargo) if she did not win.

Cement-covered tank in Chamorro's Peace Park (Parque de Paz) symbolizing the wish of Nicaraguans that "never again" will their country be plagued by such violence.

When Chamorro was sworn in, it marked the first time in decades that a sitting government had peacefully surrendered power to the opposition.

Chamorro’s peace reforms are perhaps her most enduring. Most noteworthy was her official declaration of the end of the war; she maintained this peace by a reduction in the size and power of the military, an end to the national draft, and the demobilization of the military.[33] This demobilization included the removal of the US-backed Contras thereby leaving the Sandinistas with no one to fight, and therefore creating a highly effective peace.[34] Chamorro additionally allowed for the Sandinista’s agrarian reform movement’s redistribution of land to be maintained, and retained Daniel Ortega’s brother, Humberto Ortega, as a military leader. While Chamorro received criticism for this accusing her of supporting the Sandinistas, it proved to be a valuable political move.[35] Chamorro also granted unconditional amnesties for political crimes, resulting in little room for protest from the Sandinistas, and creating a smooth transition of power. The only time the “recontras” attempted to resurface was in 1994, and Chamorro quickly suppressed the violence through a peace agreement. Chamorro’s fierce weapon-buying campaign eradicated the threat of persisting violence, and all weapons were covered in concrete at the Plaza de la Paz (Peace Square), specifically built in downtown Managua to symbolize “never again.”[36]

The Nicaraguan civil war devastated the economy, and Chamorro did succeed in developing general economic stability.[37] Chamorro controlled hyperinflation and attempted to turn to a neoliberal model outlined by the Mayorga Plan by attempting to re-integrate Nicaragua into the world market, increase foreign investment while reducing foreign backing, and increase privatization, however this plan was very unpopular in Nicaragua.[38]

Cement-covered AK-47s held by unknown boy in Chamorro's Peace Park in central Managua

The plan failed to solve the overwhelming economic devastation of Nicaragua and was coupled with a rise in unemployment and underemployment.[39] Further aggravating the plight of the poor, in order to control inflation Chamorro was forced to cut government spending by eliminating social programs, particularly for females, though she did encourage the development of a strong educational system.[40] Chamorro was also criticized for rejecting constitutional reforms that included a prohibition of nepotism, a requirement for legislative approval to tax and spend money, a decrease in the length of the presidential term from six to five years, and the expansion of constitutional liberties.[41]

Relations with the United States[edit]

The United States contributed to the 1990 election that brought Violeta Chamorro to power as they allocated $9 million to aid her party and created systems that monitored the electoral process.[42] Additionally, when Chamorro was elected, George H. W. Bush removed the embargo that Ronald Reagan had imposed during Sandinista rule and promised economic aid to the country.[43] Some people in Chamorro’s campaign team were hoping to get $1 billion worth of aid from the United States to help rebuild the country after years of civil war.[44] However, the Bush administration instead gave $300 million to the country in the first year of Chamorro’s presidency, 1990, and $241 million the year after.[45] Given the devastation that Nicaragua had faced, this amount of aid was not enough to make any serious improvement.[46]

A plaque in Chamorro's Peace Park thanking US President George H. W. Bush for his contribution to the re-establishment of democracy in Nicaragua.

Chamorro’s presidency faced decreased US interest to the point that when Chamorro came to the US in April 1991 to ask Congress for more economic aid, few members even showed up to listen to her.[45] Because the Sandinistas were defeated and peace talks were being established, U.S. foreign policy did not treat Nicaragua with as much importance anymore.

In 1992, Senator Jesse Helms worked to cut off financial aid to Nicaragua. Helms stated in his Senate report that the Sandinistas were still controlling much of the Nicaraguan government and suggested that the government replace all former Sandinista officers with ex-contras, replace all judges, and return all US property that was taken from US citizens during the revolution. Chamorro’s administration denied the allegations while still trying to meet Helms’ demands. Helms ended up winning and the US government denied Nicaragua the $104 million that they had been promised for that year.[47] Predictably, the aid cut-off, subsequent freeze, and Helms' demands were put forward in October, the month after Chamorro withdrew the compensation claims associated with the Nicaragua vs. United States verdict.[48]


  • Isaiah Thomas Award in Publishing from the Rochester Institute of Technology.[49]
  • 1986 - Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism.[50]
  • 1991 - Democracy Award from the National Endowment for Democracy.[51]
  • 1997 - Path to Peace Award from the Path to Peace Foundation.
  • 2001 - Award for Leadership in Global Trade[52]



  1. ^ Chamorro, Violeta. Dreams of the Heart. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996, ISBN 0-684-81055-7
  2. ^ Skard, Torild. "Violeta Chamorro" in Women of Power - Half a century of female presidents and prime ministers worldwide, Bristol: Policy Press, 2014, ISBN 978-1--44731-578-0
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Pallais, María L (March–April 1992). "Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. La reinamadre de la nación" (PDF). Nueva Sociedad (in Spanish) (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Fundación Foro Nueva Sociedad) (118): 89–98. ISSN 0251-3552. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Leiken 2003, pp. 73-74.
  5. ^ a b Chamorro 1996, pp. 38-40.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Uhlig, Mark A. (27 February 1990). "Turnover in Nicaragua; Aristocratic Democrat; Violeta Barrios de Chamorro". New York, New York: The New York Times. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  7. ^ Baldwin 1996, p. 100.
  8. ^ Leiken 2003, p. 74.
  9. ^ Beckman & D′Amico 1995, pp. 34-36.
  10. ^ a b c d e Ortiz de Zarate, Roberto (15 November 2001). "Violeta Barrios de Chamorro". CIDOB (in Spanish). Barcelona, Spain: Barcelona Centre for International Affairs. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  11. ^ a b Hamilton & Inouye 1995, p. 27.
  12. ^ a b c d Baldwin 1996, p. 101.
  13. ^ Chimene-Weiss, Sara; Eppel, Sol; Feigenbaum, Jeremy; Motel, Seth; Pangandoyon, Ingrid (2010). "Nicaragua and Iran Timeline". Brown University. Providence, Rhode Island: Brown University. Retrieved 30 August 2015. 
  14. ^ Hamilton & Inouye 1995, p. 29.
  15. ^ a b Guillermoprieto 1995, p. 40.
  16. ^ Beckman & D′Amico 1995, p. 37.
  17. ^ "1986 Louis Lyons Award". Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Nieman Foundation. 30 April 1986. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  18. ^ Baldwin 1996, pp. 101-102.
  19. ^ a b c Wattenberg, Ben (15 February 1990). "Media Piranhas, Where Are You Now?". Orlando, Florida: Orlando Sentinel. Newspaper Enterprise Association. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  20. ^ "The Electoral Process Gears Up". Revista Envío (Managua, Nicaragua: Central American University) 100. November 1989. Retrieved 1 September 2015. 
  21. ^ a b Pear, Robert (4 February 1990). "U.S. Aid Just Dribbles In to Nicaragua Opposition, but the Sandinistas Profit". New York, New York: New York Times. Reuters. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  22. ^ Leiken 2003, p. 75.
  23. ^ Leiken 2003, p. 69.
  24. ^ a b Beckman & D′Amico 1995, pp. 37-39.
  25. ^ Oberdorfer, Don (10 November 1989). "Chamorro Upbeat About Chances in Nicaragua Vote". Washington, DC: Washington Post. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  26. ^ Skard 2014, p. 261.
  27. ^ a b Moreno 1994, pp. 119-121.
  28. ^ Fritz, Sara (17 October 1989). "U.S. Accused of Trying to Buy Election : Nicaragua: The Administration insists that the $9 million it seeks for the opposition party is needed to offset the well-financed Sandinistas.". Los Angeles, California: LA Times. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  29. ^ Collier, Robert (28 January 1990). "U.S. Flubs Chamorro Election Aid". Orlando, Florida: Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  30. ^ Hockstader, Lee (25 January 1990). "Nicaraguan Opposition: Outsmarted and Outspent". Washington, DC: The Washington Post. Retrieved 31 August 2015. 
  31. ^ Beckman, Peter R., and Francine D’Amico.eds., Women in World Politics, 31
  32. ^ Guillermoprieto, Alma. The Heart that Bleeds, 39.
  33. ^ Beckman, Peter R., and Francine D’Amico.eds., Women in World Politics, 40-41
  34. ^ Guillermoprieto, Alma. The Heart that Bleeds 40
  35. ^ Walker, Thomas W., ed. Nicaragua Without Illusions. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1997, 49
  36. ^ Skidmore, Thomas E., and Peter H. Smith. Modern Latin America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, ISBN 978-0-19517012-2, 344-345
  37. ^ Walker, Thomas W., ed. Nicaragua Without Illusions, 86
  38. ^ Prevost, Gary and Henry E. Vanden. Politics of Latin America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, 116
  39. ^ Walker, Thomas W., ed. Nicaragua Without Illusions, 49
  40. ^ Beckman, Peter R., and Francine D’Amico, eds., Women in World Politics, 40
  41. ^ Prevost, Gary and Henry E. Vanden. Politics of Latin America, 115
  42. ^ Jauberth, H. Rodrigo, Gilberto Castaneda, Jesus Hernandez, and Pedro Vuskovic. 1992. The Difficult Triangle: Mexico, Central America, and the United States. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 34
  43. ^ LeoGrande, William M. 1998. Our Own Backyard: The United States in Central America, 1977-1992. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 563
  44. ^ Close, David. 1999. Nicaragua: The Chamorro Years. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, ISBN 1-55587-643-9, 136
  45. ^ a b Our Own Backyard: The United States in Central America, 1977-1992, 563
  46. ^ Coerver, Don M., and Linda B. Hall. 1999. Tangled Destinies: Latin America and the United States. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 169
  47. ^ Nicaragua: The Chamorro Years, 136
  48. ^ "Feud between a widowed president, Jesse Helms snags U.S. aid to Nicaragua - Baltimore Sun". 1992-11-04. Retrieved 2014-08-18. 
  49. ^ "Arthur Sulzberger Jr. to Receive RIT Isaiah Thomas Award in Publishing". Rochester Institute of Technology. Retrieved 2007-10-23. 
  50. ^ "1986 Louis Lyons Award: Violeta Chamorro". The Nieman Foundation for Journalism (Harvard University). Retrieved 2007-10-23. [dead link]
  51. ^ "1991 Democracy Award". National Endowment for Democracy. Archived from the original on 2007-05-25. Retrieved 2007-10-23. 
  52. ^ "". Association of Bi-National Chambers of Commerce in Florida. Retrieved 2007-10-23. 

Sources cited[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Daniel Ortega
President of Nicaragua
Succeeded by
Arnoldo Alemán